In Immortals, you'll upskirt the gods — and you'll like it

Filmmaker Tarsem Singh can make slaughtering animals look pretty, so imagine what he can do with genuinely pretty things. You'll have your answer when you see Immortals this weekend. This flick truly embodies the gorgeous excess of the Greek myths it retells, filling the screen with beautiful people in sumptuous robes, swirling arcs of magic blood, and smeary light cast by golden armor.

Yes, it's occasionally bombastic and cheesy, but isn't that what you want out of an ancient epic? This isn't about gritty realism, people - it's about majesty. And swords. Lots and lots of swords.

I have to admit that I didn't have high hopes for this movie. I think it was something to do with the publicity stills all touting a shirtless, mopey Henry Cavill (known for shirtlessness in The Tudors, too). I love naked guys as much as the next person, but I do get exasperated when a non-porn movie is based on the premise that shirtlessness is enough to interest me for 90 minutes.

In Immortals, you'll upskirt the gods — and you'll like it

But my fears were instantly allayed. Director Tarsem Singh, whose previous films The Cell and The Fall were visual feasts, is in his element with tales of gods and monumental architecture. We're immediately treated to mythic vistas satisfyingly realized: Theseus (Henry Cavill) lives in a city carved into a vast cavern high on a soaring cliff face. His father Zeus visits him in the body of an old man, teaching him honor and fighting. Even when Zeus dispenses nuggets of cliched wisdom ("It's not enough to fight — you must find something to fight for"), it feels right. This is like Lord of the Rings crossed with 300. You're not looking for Alexander Payne dialogue, here.

As soon as Mickey Rourke walks on screen as King Hyperion (AKA King Fuckyouup), the movie kicks into high gear and never stops. Hyperion, like Theseus, was born a lowly slave and watched his family murdered by evil Greeks who worship Zeus and his pals up on Mount Olympus. But instead of trying to fight for justice like Theseus, Hyperion has decided to kill the gods who trashed his life. To do this, he needs a special bow and arrow that he can use to unleash the Titans — the immortal creatures who clashed with the gods eons ago in a series of eyeball-blisteringly awesome battles that we get a chance to see later.

In Immortals, you'll upskirt the gods — and you'll like it

Again, the whole "I'm going to awaken the Titans to fight the gods" bit only works because Rourke is just so jaw-crushingly intense. One of the soldiers in Theseus' town decides to defect to Hyperion's army because he doesn't like how egalitarian things are getting back home. But when he arrives in Hyperion's tent, he's greeted with scar-faced old Mickey, chewing on pomegranates and spitting seeds all over the place. Hyperion says something like, "I'm going to conquer the world by raping a ton of women and squirting my seed everywhere so that everybody's sons will wear my face in the future." He goes on to explain that the defector is a lameass traitor who deserves no sons. Which is why Rourke's henchman is grabbing a giant hammer, spreading the traitor's legs, and smashing his balls into goo. Yes, this happens. Immortals is badass.

In Immortals, you'll upskirt the gods — and you'll like it

Immortals is also one of the few movies I've seen lately that manages to use special effects to create a genuine sense of wonder. Singh's weird visual effects make the Titans intriguingly alien. They've been trapped underground since they lost the battle for Olympus, lined up in a perfectly square cage in pointy hats, biting down on giant wooden dowels. It's completely demented and over-the-top, which is what makes it feel like you're actually watching the sort of movie ancient Greeks would have paid to see. Sure, the gods on Olympus look a little bit Clash of the Titans with their golden armor and silly hats, but Olympus itself is just breathtakingly beautiful.

Somehow, even when we see the gods fighting in the air, with the camera pointed right up their skirts into their divine crotches, Singh manages to hit the perfect chord of campy grandeur. I don't quite know how he does it, but he generally manages to float safely between the Scylla of cheese and the Charybdis of cliché.

Oh, you want to know the plot? Well it's as old as Western civilization. Theseus, aided by a few disobedient gods, must defeat Hyperion. Along the way, he has a fight with a bull-man that will make you feel like you're watching a Renaissance painting come to gory life. And he meets a sexy virgin prophet, Phaedra (Frieda Pinto), who helps him on his quest. There are lots of crazy costumes, barren lands stubbled with improbable buildings, and battle scenes that look like The Matrix came to Helm's Deep. Plus, Mickey Rourke's scary bunny hat alone is worth the price of admission.

In Immortals, you'll upskirt the gods — and you'll like it

Probably the biggest complaint that people will have about this movie is that it gets a little silly at times. Like I said: Rourke wears a bunny hat to battle. And Poseidon wears golden earmuffs. But I thought these fashion excesses just enhanced the fantastical tone of the film, which is after all about one of humanity's earliest and most enduring myths.

Immortals is also one of those unusual big-budget movies that is both artful and unpretentious. Every time you start feeling that a scene is delving way too deeply into how rose petals look on stone, you're yanked back into the action, where swords are zinging. Singh knows very well that he could go full arthouse on us, but he's having too much fun with the smash-em-up stuff to lose his way. As a result, the artiness of the movie feels like good fun, rather than some kind of Statement About Humankind.

If you're looking for a way to escape this weekend, visit the world of heroes and gods with Immortals.